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Marriage Green Card (How to Apply)

Marriage Green Card – Complete Step-by-Step Guide

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Last updated: April 4, 2024.

By Asel Williams, Esq. · Columbia Law School · Licensed immigration attorney

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can apply for marriage green cards to help their spouses obtain permanent residence in the United States.

The first step in receiving a marriage green card is to get married.

The marriage must be one that is recognized as a legally valid marriage in the country where the marriage took place.

It is important to keep in mind that the following will not be recognized as legally valid marriages:

  • civil unions, domestic partnerships, or other arrangements that are not recognized as specifically marriages where the ceremony took place;
  • polygamous marriages, where one spouse is already married to another person or persons;
  • marriages where one party is not present at the ceremony;
  • marriages for the purpose of violating U.S. immigration law.

Common-law marriages can be recognized as a legal green card marriage.

In order for a common-law marriage to be recognized as a green card marriage the spouses must live in a place where they meet the requirements for a common-law marriage.

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

Form I-130 is the U.S. Immigration Form called “Petition for Alien Relative”. 

Filling out this form is the first step you must take in order to receive a marriage green card. 

Petitioner and Beneficiary

The spouse that is a U.S. citizen or a green card holder is known as the “Petitioner” on Form I-130.

The spouse applying for a green card is known as the “Beneficiary”.

The Petitioner will need the following information in order to properly complete the Form I-130:

  • Address history for the previous five years;
  • The name of any former spouse(s);
  • The date any previous marriage ended;
  • All jobs worked in the previous five years;
  • Any previous immigration petition filed in support of a foreign Beneficiary.

The Beneficiary will need the following information in order to properly complete the Form I-130:

  • Address history for the previous five years;
  • The name of any former spouse(s);
  • The date any previous marriage ended;
  • All jobs worked in the previous five years;
  • If present in the United States, a Form I-94 (see below);
  • Any previous immigration proceedings

Form I-130 Required Documents Checklist

In order to complete the Form I-130 the following documents are required:

  • Petitioner must provide proof that he or she is a United States citizen or a legal permanent resident. Documents that satisfy this requirement include a birth certificate for U.S. citizens or a green card for permanent residents.
  • Proof of marriage. The most common document is a marriage certificate. 
  • It is also important to provide proof of marriage termination if any spouse has had a previous marriage. A divorce document indicating the name of the Petitioner or Beneficiary as well as an indication that the divorce is legally valid where granted is a common example.
  • Two passport-sized photos of both the Petitioner and the Beneficiary are required.

In addition, proof of a bona fide marriage is also required. Proof can include:

  • Joint checking account statement
  • Birth certificate of a child born in marriage
  • Evidence of joint financial responsibilities – like a mortgage or utility bills.

The couple need to provide evidence that shows the spouses are married and are not trying to trick the immigration service in order to obtain a green card.

The filing fee for filing Form I-130 should be sent when filing the petition:

  • $625 (if filing online) – recommended, or
  • $675 (if filing by mail)

How Long Does it Take to Get a Marriage Green Card?

Spouses of U.S. Citizens

The good news for spouses of U.S. citizens applying for a marriage-based green card is that there is an unlimited number of visas available for them. 

This means the green card processing time is much shorter when the beneficiary is married to a U.S. citizen.

The green card processing time for spouses of U.S. citizens can take anywhere between 14 and 17 months.

If the Beneficiary lives in the U.S. and is married to a U.S. citizen expect the processing time to be between 12 and 13 months.

If the Beneficiary is living abroad then the processing time can take up to 17 months.

Spouses of Permanent Residents

The green card processing time for spouses of permanent residents can take from 24 to 36 months.

If the Beneficiary is living in the United States expect the processing time to be around 24-36 months.

If the Beneficiary is living abroad, expect the time to be around 24-28 months.

What happens after submitting Form-130?

After submitting Form I-130, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will review the application for completeness and will let you know if something is missing. 

That is why it is important to make sure you have provided all the documents necessary to complete your application in an effort to avoid a delay in processing.

After checking the Form for completeness and making sure all documentation is provided USCIS will review Form I-130.

For example, the USCIS will review the marriage certificate provided with Form I-130 in order to make sure that the marriage is a legal marriage in the place the ceremony took place.

Other documents will also be reviewed, such as any proof submitted in support of bona-fide marriage, and examining the Petitioner’s and beneficiary’s passport.

When the USCIS approves the I-130 petition it will notify the Petitioner.

If the beneficiary is in the United States then the next step will be to file the Adjustment of Status.

If the beneficiary is outside the U.S., it will be sent to the appropriate overseas U.S. Consulate or Embassy for Consular Processing.

Green Card Applicants Living in the U.S.

Adjustment of Status is the process where an immigrant changes his or her immigration status from a non-immigrant to a permanent resident.

If an immigrant is not eligible for Adjustment of Status then he or she must use consular processing.

In order to be eligible for Adjustment of Status, the following must be true:

  1. Immigrant is physically present in the United States and will remain physically present throughout the Adjustment of Status process;
  2. Immigrant entered the country legally. This means the immigrant entered the country with required documentation and was approved entry by USCIS; and
  3. Immigrant has an approved Form I-130.

If the immigrant meets these three eligibility requirements then he or she will need to complete a Form I-485, the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

There are some immigrants who legally entered the United States but will not be able to file for Adjustment of Status.

These include immigrants who entered the country as a crewman and people who entered the United States on their way to a third country.

In addition, inadmissibility grounds still apply to those immigrants present in the country.

Some examples of inadmissibility grounds which will prevent an immigrant from adjusting status are:

  • Being convicted of certain crimes;
  • Having a communicable disease;
  • Considered a threat to U.S. national security;
  • Likely to be a public charge.

The following documents are needed when filing an I-485 application. These documents are necessary to show that the Beneficiary is eligible for a green card:

  • Proof of lawful entry to the United States (such as a copy of a U.S. visa, CBP stamp and I-94 record)
  • A copy of the Applicant’s birth certificate and passport;
  • Proof that the I-130 Petitioner can financially support the Beneficiary (Form I-864, Affidavit of Support)
  • The Beneficiary must take a medical examination by a USCIS approved doctor (Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record);
  • If the applicant has ever been arrested he or she must provide proof that there was no conviction.

Spouses of U.S. Citizens Living in the U.S.

Spouses of U.S. citizens applying for a marriage-based green card and living in the U.S. can file Form I-485 at the same time a Petitioner files Form I-130.

The form can also be submitted after the I-130 has been approved.

The filing fee for the I-485 is $1,440 for applicants age over 14 (biometrics included).

The processing time for the I-485 when submitted by spouses of U.S. citizens is 12 to 13 months.

The processing time for the I-485 when submitted by spouses of lawful permanent residents will take longer due to having to wait for green card availability. This generally adds an additional 8 to 10 months to the processing time.

Learn more: How to Read the Visa Bulletin for Family-Based Immigrants

It is also important to remember that the Beneficiary must maintain a non-immigrant lawful status while the I-130 and I-485 are being processed.

Green Card Applicants Living Abroad

Aside from an Adjustment of Status, another avenue to receiving a green card is through consular processing.

Consular processing is the only method available to people who are currently not physically present in the United States.

After Form I-130 is approved, the National Visa Center will notify the Petitioner that a visa is about to become available.

Once a visa is about to become available the green card Beneficiary can begin the process of obtaining a green card through consular processing.

The following is the documentation required for consular processing:

  • The Applicant must submit the Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration. This is Form DS-260. The fee for this application is $325
  • The Petitioner will submit an Affidavit of Support, Form I-864. This Affidavit of Support is a contract between the Petitioner and U.S. government of financial support the Beneficiary if the Beneficiary is unable to support himself or herself. The Affidavit of Support costs $120 to file.

Interview at U.S. Embassy or Consulate

If the Beneficiary is abroad then the interview will take place at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

When a visa becomes available and the Form DS-260 has been received along with all other documentation then the consular office will schedule an interview with the Applicant.

The consular interview is a very important part of the process.

You should expect a lot of questions about your spouse and your relationship with your spouse.

The interview is used to determine if a bona fide marriage exists.

The sorts of questions you will be asked involve biographical information about your spouse, such as date and place of birth.

It will include questions about how you met your spouse, the last time you saw and spoke with your spouse.

There will be questions about your spouse’s family, about the wedding, and about future plans you and your spouse have.

In addition, there will be questions about your background.

It is important to answer truthfully and to also be prepared.

Go over your spouse’s background and make sure you know as many details as possible about your spouse and his or her family.

If the consular approves the immigrant visa then the Applicant will be given a visa packet.

This visa packet will allow the Applicant the opportunity to be admitted to the United States.

When the Applicant goes to the United States he or she will give the visa packet to the Customs official at the entry port.

If Customs finds the Applicant admissible then the Applicant will be admitted as a permanent resident.

USCIS will mail a green card to the newly admitted permanent resident to the address indicated on DS-260 form.

If You Have Been Married for Less Than 2 Years

When you receive your green card you might find that it is “conditional” and set to expire within two years. 

If you and your spouse have been married less than 2 years at the time the green card was approved then you will receive this conditional green card.

It is important to know that a holder of a conditional green card has the same rights and privileges as a permanent resident who holds a permanent green card.

After two years you will need to once again prove that the marriage is a bona-fide marriage.

At that time you will receive a permanent green card.

In order to receive a permanent green card you must file a Form I-751 the Petition to Remove Conditions.

This form must be filed within 90 days of your conditional green card expiring.

Form I-751 filing fees:

I-751 Filing Category

Paper Filing Fee

General Filing


Conditional permanent residents, spouse, or child who filed a waiver of the joint filing requirement based on battery or extreme cruelty.


Certain applicants may be eligible for a Fee Waiver. 

You will need to provide additional evidence of a bona fide marriage.

This can include pictures of you and your spouse, additional evidence of joint financial obligation, proof of any children in the marriage – basically the same type of evidence used in the Form I-130.

Upon approval, you will receive your permanent green card.

Related Links:

How to Fill Out Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative – Step-By-Step Instructions

Form I-130A – How to Fill Out

Form I-130 Checklist of Required Documents

Adjustment of Status Process

Consular Processing